Back-to-School Program for Low-Income Kids: Two Legal Aid Attorneys Identified the Need and Advocated for the Solution
Ken Stephens and Katie Kelleher discuss the Back to School bonus proposal.

At a press conference on Tuesday, August 11, 2009, Governor David Paterson and philanthropist George Soros announced a one-time $200 back-to-school grant to purchase school clothing and supplies for each of more than 850,000 low-income children (ages 3 through 17) in New York State whose families receive food stamps.  The Governor and Mr. Soros where joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg who supports this innovative program. 

So often behind great new initiatives to benefit clients there are dedicated Legal Aid staff members who identify a client problem and then advocate for a solution.  In this particular case, Katie Kelleher and Ken Stephens identified the problem our client families have in purchasing back-to-school clothing and supplies and realized that the availability of federal stimulus funds for New York State presented a unique opportunity to address this problem.  Katie and Ken are staff attorneys in the Civil Practice's Law Reform Unit.  This $175 million back-to-school program has been made possible by a combination of $140 million in federal stimulus dollars provided to New York State through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Contingency Fund and private funds contributed by George Soros, through his Open Society Institute's new Poverty Alleviation Fund which is putting up approximately $35 million to allow New York to leverage four times that amount in federal stimulus dollars.

 Katie and Ken received the following note from officials at the Poverty Alleviation Fund:

"Dear Ken and Katie: Just wanted to thank you for making the Back to School benefit a reality.  You were instrumental in shepherding the idea through the various channels to make it work.  How lucky 850,000 children and their families are today because of  both of you and your wonderful team."

Before she became a lawyer, Katie worked in the Massachusetts social services department.  One of Massachusetts' most popular programs was an annual grant of $150 which went out each year to low income families to help defray the costs of getting kids clothing to go back to school in the Fall.  Seeing this same need for our clients in New York, particularly in the midst of the current economic downturn, Katie and Ken formulated a proposal to use federal TANF stimulus money to help pay for a similar New York back-to-school program this year and then brought it to State officials. 

Katie and Ken also met with officials from the Poverty Alleviation Fund, created by Mr. Soros's Open Society Institute, who liked the idea of delivering immediate assistance to low income parents and others struggling to feed, cloth and shelter their families.  Within a few weeks after the meeting, the wheels were in motion to forge an agreement whereby funds from Mr. Soros's OSI would help the State tap into the federal stimulus money.  OSI would put up the entire State match, $35 million, to leverage the $140 million in federal stimulus funds in order to create this $175 million "back-to-school" initiative.

Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice, and Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, joined Katie and Ken at the press conference Tuesday to announce this important program for our clients.  "This is a perfect example of the outstanding advocacy of our Legal Aid staff," said Adriene Holder.  "They are smart, they are driven and they are dedicated to our clients.  I'm proud to recognize Katie and Ken for this great accomplishment."

Download the Back to School Flyer (PDF)